Good Riddance, Decade From Hell

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A few weeks ago, Time Magazine dubbed the 2000's the "Decade from Hell." Here's what Time had to say:
Instead, it was the American Dream that was about to dim. Bookended by 9/11 at the start and a financial wipeout at the end, the first 10 years of this century will very likely go down as the most dispiriting and disillusioning decade Americans have lived through in the post–World War II era. We're still weeks away from the end of '09, but it's not too early to pass judgment. Call it the Decade from Hell, or the Reckoning, or the Decade of Broken Dreams, or the Lost Decade. Call it whatever you want — just give thanks that it is nearly over.

Calling the 2000s "the worst" may seem an overwrought label in a decade in which we fought no major wars, in historical terms. It is a sadly appropriate term for the families of the thousands of 9/11 victims and soldiers and others killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the lack of a large-scale armed conflict makes these past 10 years stand out that much more. This decade was as awful as any peacetime decade in the nation's entire history. Between the West's ongoing struggle against radical Islam and our recent near-death economic experience — trends that have largely skirted much of the developing world — it's no wonder we feel as if we've been through a 10-year gauntlet. Americans may have the darkest view of recent history, since it's in the U.S. that the effects of those trends have been most acute. If you live in Brazil or China, you have had a pretty good decade economically. Once, we were the sunniest and most optimistic of nations. No longer.
No argument here, this decade was awful. I'd add that it began with the Supreme Court handing an election to George W. Bush, despite the fact that Al Gore won 544,000 more votes than Bush. We then suffered through 8 terrible years of what was, arguably, the worst presidency in U.S. history. We experienced the horror of the 9/11 attacks, including one plane that hit us right here in Virginia. Now, of course, we're dealing with the terrible recession bequeathed to us by Bush, plus the enormous debt Bush accumulated over his 8 years in office by giving huge tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans while simultaneously invading and occupying Iraq. Finally, as the decade comes to a close, we are witnessing the rise of a nasty, right-wing populist movement, the likes of which we haven't seen since...the 1930s? the McCarthy era? Wonderful, huh?

So, I'm trying really hard to think of a worse decade for this country than the one we've just endured, and the only one that's coming to mind is the 1930s, which saw the Great Depression, the rise of Fascism, and the start of World War II. Other than that, I can't think of a consistently worse decade than the 2000s. Yes, the 1960s were tumultuous, but many good things (civil rights, women's rights, economic growth) happened in that decade as well as bad things (Vietnam, racial problems). Also, the 1970s were a bad decade - Watergate, stagflation, the Iranian hostage crisis, a lost war in Vietnam - but I'd still argue that this past decade was worse on balance, given the magnitude of crises - the economy, debt, terrorism, war, global warming, nuclear proliferation, etc. - we're currently dealing with.

Here in Virginia, we moved from a "red" state to a kinda-sorta "blue" (or, more likely, "purple") state, then back to a "red" state once again. We saw Jim Webb defeat George Allen and a Democratic presidential candidate win the state for the first time in 44 years. We went from good economic and budgetary times to extremely difficult economic and budgetary times. We found ourselves mired worse than ever in transportation gridlock, with the 2002 defeat of one possible funding source (tax referenda in NOVA and Hampton Roads) and the abuser fees/regional authorities fiasco of 2007 (so much for those sources of transportation revenues). We were attacked on 9/11. And, last but not least, we experienced the horror of April 16, 2007 in Blacksburg. All in all, I'd say this was a difficult decade here in Virginia, with bright spots but also plenty of dark ones. It could have been worse, but it also could have been a lot better.

Anyway, what do you think? Were the years 2000-2009 the worst decade in U.S. history since the 1930s? Or were they not really all that bad? Make your case in the comments section, and let's hope for a peaceful and prosperous second decade. Happy New Year.